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Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

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Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

This set of questions was created by an informal poll of guests who frequent cabins and owners who participate on the TA forums in the Smokies. These are helpful questions and tips for renting a private vacation rental home in the Smokies. Ask these questions and perhaps they will help you find that perfect place for your next Smoky Mountain vacation.

- Exterior Questions

What are the roads like getting to the cabin?

Are they steep, 1 or 2 lanes, paved, gravel, do I need a 4 wheel drive vehicle to access it?

How steep is the driveway?

Is the driveway paved or gravel? Paved driveways are great, but gravel driveways are better for winter weather in terms of ice and traction.

How close is the cabin to the next cabin (privacy)?

Privacy issues as how close to other cabins including each side and in front and back of cabin in terms of feet?

Privacy - is it secluded/how many other cabins can you see?

If privacy is a primary concern ask about vegetation or size of the lot. Very private homes may not need window treatments and the interior photos may reveal that as well.

Does the view from the deck look over someone else’s house?

Is the view an east facing sunrise view or west sun setting view?

What if I book in the winter and the day I get to town it snows 10 inches and I cant get to the cabin. What is your refund policy?

Is there any nearby construction to the cabin? i.e. Next door to the cabin.

- Location Questions

How far is it to the nearest grocery?

Where is the home? Most managers and rent by owners will only divulge this information to guests who pay in full. This is in large part for the security of the current guests and for the home itself. However, if you are somewhat familiar to the town the cabin is near, you may want to ask specific questions about the area such as where is the home in relation to downtown or the Parkway or casino or the ski slopes.

What are the cabins close to Activities,Dining?

- Hot Tub – Spa Questions

How often do you clean the hot tub? Is the hot tub emptied and clean before every visitor?

These questions are good ones, but some hot tubs have better filtration than others. Some need to be completely drained after each stay and others need to be drained between 14 to 30 days. Ask if the spa has 24/7 filtration or does it only filter the water when the jets are on? Those that only filter during the operation of the spa need to be drained more often than those with constant filtration.

Is there someone available to fix the broken hot tub? How long does it typically take to have a person out to fix or clean the spa? The answer to this somewhat depends on the nature of the problem and unfortunately the day of the week and time of the day the problem is reported. Sundays and Holidays may pose challenges to any needed service.

Is the spa under cover out of the elements or is out on a deck? In snow many people enjoy sitting in the spa on a deck with snow falling. In the summer it rains a lot in the Smokies and a hot tub out in the open may limit the use during the rain.

How big is the hot tub in gallons? The larger the hot tub typically the cleaner it may be and depending on the spa, the longer it holds heat. Some hot tubs have heaters that work at the same time as the jets and keep the water warm during operation.

How many adults can use the spa?

Do you have to turn the spa on to warm the water? If so, how long does the water take to warm the spa?

- Other Exterior Questions

Do you have a fire pit? If so do you provide wood or do I need to buy it? Is it a gas log fire set?

Do you have a source to buy firewood in bulk for extended stays?

What is parking like at the cabin? Do you have covered parking? Can I access the garage if one is present?

Can I bring a motorcycle trailer and how many feet do you have to turn a trailer around at the cabin?

How do I access the cabin? Are there many steps or ramps? What happens if air conditioner breaks in July can you fix in a couple of hours? This is a good question, but more importantly if any of the major mechanical systems fail, how will they handle the event is what needs to be asked. Owners and managers are somewhat at the mercy of the contracted repairman to fix the problems.

- Interior Questions

Many of the interior questions should be answered on the owners web site or management company’s as the case may be. However, if you have specific needs for accessibility, bedrooms on the main floor, ramps, steps, and so forth be sure to ask the owner or manager.

What exactly is in the kitchen in terms of cookware, appliances and does everything work?

How many place servings do you offer in the kitchen? If the home sleeps 6 and there are only 6 servings of flatware and silverware, you are doing dishes at every meal.

Do you have central heat and air? Wood burning fireplace or gas logs? Ceiling fans?

If you allow pets, do you shampoo the rugs regularly?

What is the quantity of cleaning supplies?

How many rolls of bathroom tissue do you provide?

What linens do you provide? If quality and thread count are important to you as a guest, ask this as well.

How old are your beds?

- Fees, Policies and Money

This is the nitty gritty of renting cabins. Property managers and owners vary widely in the fees they charge for staying in a vacation rental. Be sure to ask about the TOTAL Costs before renting and when comparing cabins.

What are the fees, is there a cancellation policy, do you offer return guests a discount?

Do you charge cleaning fees including hot tub?

Is there an additional charge for over a certain number of guests?

Does the company offer trip insurance?

What is the check in/out policy?

Is there a damage deposit?

What is the cleaning fee?

What is your refund and cancellation policy? Ask about inside of 30 days and outside of 30 days?

Are there booking fees or other hidden fees?

- Other Questions

If it is a Rent By Owner cabin how far away do you live? Can you respond ASAP to a problem?

Are pictures updated/amenities accurate?

Does the company provide directions to the cabin?

Is the deck built to proper modern building codes and safe?

Do you have a floor plan?

- Interesting comments

Generally, where is the cabin? This is tricky sometimes, as most rental companies don't like to give out the address of a cabin before you rent it for security reasons. However, it really doesn't provide much assistance for a VRBO or rental company to mention that a cabin is "8 miles from Gatlinburg" or close to the Nantahala River Gorge, when it could be one of three directions.

If you're really interested in a cabin with a view, you need to really scrutinize the pictures of the view from the cabin. If the place claims to have a view yet all pictures of the view are taken in the winter, you may have no view at all in the summer when the leaves are on the trees.

Also be wary of cabins that have very few pictures of their cabin to look at. What are they hiding?

For most, if the bedspreads/quilts/comforters on the beds looked old, it was a complete turnoff. If they haven't replaced their bedding since the 70s, how good can the rest of the cabin be?

If you're renting a larger cabin, ask if there are enough pots and pans to cook meals for lots of people. It's amazing how anyone could think that you can cook for 16 or 18 people with one average sized pot and a skillet!

Happy Camping!

18 replies to this topic
Cheboygan, MI
posts: 2
reviews: 3
1. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Something I would add to the list is checking out the rental company with the Better Business Bureau. It lists number of complaints, type of complaints, whether they were handled to the customer's satisfaction, etc. The URL is www.bbb.org.

posts: 32
2. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

One more question to add. Is the water SULFUR water?? We rented a cabin once and the water was sulfur and it was so bad we bought water to brush our teeth with and you could smell it on us after we bathed!! The water was actually black when we turned it on and we had to let it run for awhile just to get it so we could bathe in it1!! Terrible!!! We come up a couple of times a year and this was a huge dissappointment to us!!! We always ask now!!!

Greenville, Alabama
posts: 21
3. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Here is another way of checking out a cabin before renting. If the rental company will tell you, ask how often the owner of the cabin stays in his own cabin. If he frequently stays at his own cabin, it should be well kept. We just stayed in "Almost Bearadise''rented through Secret Hideaways Cabin Rentals and really enjoyed our stay. I understand the owner stays there a lot so he has it well decorated and renter -friendly.

4. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

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Removed on: 5:05 pm, October 21, 2009
Nova Scotia, Canada
posts: 83
reviews: 26
5. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Ask about heat and water pressure. The place was COLD and we were so far up a hill that we couldn't fill up the jacuzzi as the water pressure was non existent and the hot water couldn't keep up. After we had carried all our stuff up 4 flights we had to move in the pooring rain and it was scary it was so slippery taking everything back down the stairs in the rain.

Nova Scotia, Canada
posts: 83
reviews: 26
6. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Ask about heat and water pressure. The place was COLD and we were so far up a hill that we couldn't fill up the jacuzzi as the water pressure was non existent and the hot water couldn't keep up. After we had carried all our stuff up 4 flights we had to move in the pooring rain and it was scary it was so slippery taking everything back down the stairs in the rain.

East TN
posts: 201
reviews: 60
7. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

I totall agree about the MAINTENANCE questions.

ASK ...what if something goes WRONG with my cabin such as the HEAT or A/C or HOT TUB. Can it be fixed easily ? Are you ON the premises or nearby ???

We rented a cabin (inbox me for details) once and upon our arrival everything looked GREAT and beautiful. So we turned the hot tub on, cranked the temp up on it and watched some TV while we were waiting for it to warm up.

After an hour we went out and it was still around 70 degrees. We turned it off and back on, made sure the temp was set where we wanted it. Waited another hour. STILL 70 degrees. This was a 4 person hot tub so nothing HUGE or anything.

Long story short, the darn thing NEVER heated not once. It was cold, cold, cold. We called the owner and he said he was an hour away....plus it was a weekend and nobody could come out to fix it. He was not very friendly at ALL.

Well, we were only staying for one night ( this company will rent for 1 night) so basically our whole stay was ruined. That's why we booked a cabin was to get the use of a hot tub on the deck. It was our anniversary. How romantic is a cold hot tub ?

I complained that I wanted some money back and didn't get my calls returned. I emailed saying I wanted a partial refund and FINALLY got a return email.

Owner said that it was on the FINE PRINT in the rental agreement.....NO REFUNDS based on equipment failure !!!!


I got BURNED. I always check these things now. Owner made no offers at all of any type of reimbursement. Not friendly at all. Finally did admit that the heater was torn up.


Pittsburgh, PA
posts: 61
reviews: 11
8. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Another thing I we had (maybe on Trip Advisor forums for Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge) was a website or forum thread dedicated to each major cabin rental company in the area where people could post their reviews of individual cabins listed with a particular company or owner.

Using the TA search feature, I was able to find folks who stayed in the cabin we want to rent in August. They had additional photos and information not available through the company sites. Invaluable information could be had this way which might take the guess work out of picking a cabin for our families to vacation in.

Pigeon Forge
posts: 17
reviews: 10
9. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

If renting from a management company, ask how many cabins they have vs the number of employees. The best companies, have less than 3.5 cabins per employee. The better that ratio the better the service will be. Some companies have as many as 10 cabins per every weary employee.

Ask if their phones are answered 24 hours a day. Mostly, this tells you if the management cares about their guests. Call the number after midnight. If nobody picks up or you get a machine... kind of goes back to my point of the cabins to employee ratio. Do they care more about the $ or providing for their guests.

If renting directly from an absentee owner ask who will be inspecting the housekeeping prior to your arrival. Whatever their answer, the reality is that it will probably be you. Good luck with that. There is an old management saying, "they do what you inspect, not what you expect".

Does the management company subcontract their maintenance? If the answer is yes you should probably hang up the phone. If you need the heat fixed at 10PM on a Sunday night you will want them to have an in-house HVAC tech. Private contractors are used to sleeping normal hours and aren't likely to arrive until monday. See my first paragraph.

Dublin, Virginia
posts: 2
10. Re: Tips for Renting a Cabin in the Smoky Mountains Region

Also add to the list ...Is the cabin that you are looking at on thier site the cabin you will be staying in when you arrive...They lure you in with one cabin and when you arrive you are put into a different cabin,,It happened to us needless to say we was not happy at all...Also are the photos actual pictures of the cabin are have they been altered..Photoshop...how old are the pictures they may have been took in 1970 when everything was new and beautiful and not show old and wore out.....And also how far from your vacation destination is the cabin located .....Not in minutes but miles....If they say just minutes you could find yourself doing a lot of driving on your vacation...Is the cabin located on a steep curvey mountain road ...Thats all i can think of right now....


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